Why #Opendata matters in the Networked Society

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What is Opendata?

In a nutshell, “Open data is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike.”

What this means practically, is that data assets are being exposed  without charging the consumer of that data, with the exception of possible reproduction costs.  Since most of this data will be available over the internet and stored in the cloud, where the costs are marginal we can assume that open data is completely free of charge. Secondly the definition also states that this data shall be freely redistributable and can also be mixed with other data assets without limitations. This means that you can manipulate the data, aggregate it without any limitations imposed by the original data source provider. But the most interesting requirement on opendata is that it cannot include any restrictions on how the data should be used. For me this is the key, since it will not only open the data for educational purposes, but also  allow  the use of  opendata for commercial purposes. So Opendata will spur innovation and entrepreneurship.

Opendata promotes transparency

One of the opportunities seen by governments and local administration is to expose data for transparancy purposes. This helps citizens to understand where and how public spending is made, allows better scrutiny of this spending and can create more trust in authorities in the long run. Let me give you a few examples.

Open data PARIS – The city of Paris releases economic data about public contracts awarded, government spending and other data to promote transparency between the public administration and citizen.  Information and location of public services like educational institutions and buildings is made available machine readable files that can be downloaed.  Accessibility information about government infrastructure is also provided.

The city of Vienna in Austria is even taking this one step further since the country was to implement a vision of an open government where  “In opening its data records to the public, the City of Vienna is taking yet another important step towards implementing its Open Government Strategy” furthermore the city has deicded “to create administrative structures based on more transparency and participation, enabling closer cooperation with the local population, local businesses and the scientific community.” This is quiet a bold ambition but I think is the future of governments in the networked society.

Another interesting initiative I came across comes from Northern Italy. The region Veneto has started an opendata initiative with an ambition to provide a portal to different type of data sets grouped in different themes. Interesting is that the data sources are not only including information about public infrastructure, like roads and maps,  but some of the data sets now also include more domain specific information like environment or culture related data.  Especially the environmental related data can be very important to creare a more sustainable society.

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Opendata initiatives and the SmartCity

Governments and city administrations have also realized that sharing the data assets they have can help in the development of a SmartCity vision and improve the life quality of their citizen.

Around the world many cities have quick-started opendata initiatives to stimulate innovation in the urban context.

As  an example in the city of Amsterdam, DIVV, the city’s department for Infrastructure , Traffic and Transportation has

made available all its data on traffic and transportation to interested parties.  Data about parking (tariffs, availability, time), taxi stands, cyclepaths, stops for touringcars are public.

By having a competition on the best applications and rewarding the winners, they attracted a lot of potential startups that want to leverage ont the data . On the 2012 winners is ParkShark an application which helps you find available parking places using predefined criteria. The benefits for the citizen is less stress when searching for parking and for the city is ultimately reduces CO2 emissions and will optimize parking usage.

To go back to the previous example, the city of Vienna has been exposing mostly GIS based information like infrastructure, musuems, bus stops and other usefull data, but have now also started to expose real-time data. In particular they are exposing real-time traffic information about communal transportation systems.  There are today roughly 100 applications that have been designed specifically to leverage on opendata in Vienna.

Opendata will be a catalyst for innovation

The opendata phenomenom is growing rapidly around the world and I strongly believe Opendata will be a catalyst for innovation everywhere. It is important that startups and innovators realize that there is a good mine of data that is available for them to create value for citizens and governments.